Monday, 29 June 2009

Monday 29th.June 2009

It's been niggling away all weekend . Was that positively a Silver Washed Fritillary that I saw at High Elms last Friday ? The only way to find out was to go back , now that things have returned to normal in the area .
I decided that whilst there , I would do the full two and a half hour butterfly transect , and so , put plenty of water in the car before setting off . It was obvious right from the start , that there had been an explosion in the number of Meadow Brown and Ringlet on the wing . Every blade of grass seemed to have one of either species on it , but by far and away the most productive areas were those that were not cut last Autumn . Having found Marbled Whites on Burnt Gorse last week , it was good to find 3 more here , well away from the originals . The main Conservation field , with the exception of a small area at the Cuckoo Wood car park end , was cut by tractor/mower , and the small area won hands down on numbers recorded . By the time I got to that area , it was good to get into shaded woodland , as the temperature was creeping relentlessly upwards . Along the track towards Burnt Gorse , I stopped to check on the 2 Violet Helleborines , and I'm glad to say they are doing very well , with the first found one beginning to unfurl it's flower head . Along the edges of the paths , the enchantingly named , Enchanter's Nightshade is in flower , a delicate little plant . Before dropping down to Burnt Gorse , I checked the small glade , at the far end of which , I had Friday's sighting . As soon as I got to the first Bramble patch , the unmistakable flash of large orange wings , confirmed that the Silver Washed Fritillaries are on the wing again . I didn't manage a shot of this specimen , as it had a quick check of the Bramble flowers , and swiftly moved on . At the end of the glade , there was no sign . I headed for the Orchid Bank , and immediately had another patrolling the unfenced area , where hopefully the White Letter Hairstreaks will appear soon . Another clearing , adjacent to where I recorded egg laying last year , produced 4 males , 3 in combat with each other , even though no females were seen , and the fourth , looking as if it had just emerged , was nectaring on Bramble flower . The diagnostic feature for the male are the 4 dark bars across the wings . Moving on to the glade where the majority of the egg laying was recorded , another 2 males were found . One seemed to think that the whole glade belonged to him , and drove off the other every time he entered it . Having driven off the other , the first then took up position on a branch , overlooking the area . On one return , he settled just in the right position to show clearly how he gets his name , as if someone had 'washed' the underwing with silver . Apart from good numbers of Small Skipper , Burnt Gorse didn't produce any surprises . At the far end , where it joins with Hang Grove , two members of the Mullein family were found . The first , Great Mullein , also known as Aaron's Rod , and , within a couple of metres of it , the less common White Mullein .
A favourite of mine , Vervain , was also found , and whilst checking up on it , found that it is the only British member of the Verbena family , which is a mainly tropical family , that also includes the huge Teak trees of tropical forests .
The full transect results were , Meadow Brown (378) , Ringlet (224) , Small Skipper (27) , Marbled White (6) , Comma (8) , Large Skipper (4) , Silver Washed Fritillary (conservative 12/15) , Small White (1) , Common Blue (1) , Speckled Wood (8) , Brimstone (2) and Red Admiral (1) .
Although the number of Burnet Companion , day flying moths , have reduced greatly , the Six spot Burnet moths were found in good numbers . The only birds of note found , were 2 juvenile Green Woodpeckers , Common Whitethroat , Blackcap and Chiffchaff . Blackbirds were very vocal , perhaps it's because they only have another couple of weeks or so before they stop singing . Carol read an article a couple of weeks ago , that they stop singing by 17th. July , we''ll see . I can't remember whether I have posted it before , but the pappus of the Goatsbeard- Jack -go-to-bed-at-noon , is truly a work of art in my mind .

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Sunday 28th.June 2009

Went out for a quick look around the area , before the world descended on Biggin Hill again , and before we head up to the smoke to see 'The Boss' , Bruce Springsteen in concert in Hyde Park this evening .
A good half hour at the Ash tree on the Common , produced not a single sighting of Purple Hairstreak , having read reports of their emergence elsewhere .
A walk around Keston Ponds confirmed that now the fishing season is under way again , the amount of rubbish left on site has increased enormously . This was added to by a good sized branch giving way , and crashing onto the bank across the footpath , probably due to the stress the tree is under during this hot dry spell . Fortunately , being early , no one was underneath . Dragonflies and Damselflies are still poor in number compared to other years , probably due to swim clearance for the anglers . There were 9 Emperor Dragonflies on the wing , including one female egg laying . Red Eyed Damselflies - pictured are really down in numbers . A walk down to the Bog produced a very quiet scene with the pools dried up , I didn't record any Odonata . The two over-riding species on the site are Bog Cotton , and the Bog Asphodel , which still has a long way to go , before being in full flower . I know I posted it before , but I couldn't resist another close up of this delicate flower . My last call was at the farm lake , and already the Air Show traffic was building up , so I was glad to get there . Worryingly , I could only see 3 adult and 4 young Little Grebes , especially when they started off with 10 or 11 young between the two families . No such problems for the Coots , with their 5 from their second brood growing quickly . Black Tailed Skimmers and Common Darters are still emerging , but not so many seen on the wing today . It was the same for butterflies , but I did find a pair of Ringlets doing what a pair of Ringlets are meant to do . I almost dismissed a Comma , apart from recording it , when a second look had me reaching for the camera . Normally , the Comma has black/grey coloured underwing , but this specimen has golden brown coloured underwing . This form is called 'hutchinsoni' , at a guess first noticed by a guy named Hutchinson . They are produced by early Spring caterpillars . On the bank behind the lake , Nettle Leaved Bellflower , a member of the Campanula family is in flower . Whilst I was walking around the lake , the owner's dog came down for a swim , with the four Mallard youngsters .
And finally , for Warren , the normal colour of Musk Mallow as opposed to the pale form you found on your patch .

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Saturday 27th.June 2009

After my visit two weeks ago to Ashdown Forest , today I made the return visit that I promised myself . Top of my list was female Silver Studded Blue butterfly , so I headed straight for the area where I found the two males on my last visit . Although it was only 9.30 , the car thermometer was reading 22 C. as I parked . It was easier to locate the species this time , as I would estimate that there were 8/10 males , very active , obviously searching for females amongst the Bell Heather and Cross Leaved Heath . I decided that they would find any females much better than I could , so I spent the next hour and a half , following the males until I lost sight , or when one rested , followed another . As can be seen from this shot , damage has been inflicted during the many aerial battles when two met . At the end of the time , I was sweating buckets , and not even a glimpse of a female had been seen . I headed back to the car , passing a very brown pond , as many are on the site , where a male Broad Bodied Chaser was standing guard over his patch . The Common Sundews , showing no sign last visit , have come into flower this visit . I then headed for The Reserve , managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust . On entering the site , most noticeable was the small amount of birdsong compared to last time , but not totally unexpected , given that the temperature had gone up another couple of degrees . First bird
recorded was a male Stonechat , but keeping a distance from the camera this time . All was quiet where I found the Woodlarks before , so I headed towards a series of small ponds on the down slope . The first produced two male dragonflies in aerial combat . One was the Emperor Dragonfly , which is found in a variety of habitats , but the other was a heathland specialist , the Keeled Skimmer , which gets it's name from the 'keel or join' , that runs the length of the abdomen . I believe that this species can be found at just one site in Kent , Hothfield Common . This species could be confused with the Black Tailed Skimmer , but the 'keel' and the lack of the black tip to the abdomen are diagnostic .The second pond once again produced a female Emperor Dragonfly , and once again egg laying . The other ponds provided more of the same , with the addition of Common Blue , Azure and Large Red Damselflies . I was hoping that two other heathland species , Small Red Damselfly , obviously smaller than the Large , but with red legs rather than black , and Black Darter , might have emerged , but it would appear it was just too early for them . I followed the track down the slope to the small stream that runs in the valley , a haunt that was favoured by Golden Ring Dragonfly in years gone by , but with ponies grazing the area , and damage to the bankside habitat where they go down to drink , I didn't find any . Coming back up the slope in that heat , without a breath of wind was tiring , but on the path a Green Tiger Beetle gave me a rest while I photographed it . My last sighting of this species was the day I photographed the Smooth Snakes in deepest Surrey . At the top of the slope , I spotted a brownish 'darter' sized dragonfly pass me and settle in the heather , some way off the track . I followed , and it turned out to be a female Keeled Skimmer , keeping out of the way of those male advances . Once again , showing the 'keel' along the back of the abdomen . Also on the path was a butterfly that you would expect to find in this habitat , the Small Heath . I deviated from the path on the way back , and I'm glad I did , for two reasons . The first was as I was walking through a large area of Bracken . I spotted a large dragonfly , hawking for insects , but it moved off before I could get a good look at it . Further on , I came across it again , this time it was perched . It was what I had been looking for at the stream , the aptly named Golden Ringed Dragonfly . I managed this shot , and as I took a second , it launched after a passing insect , and I never saw it again . Having said that , it could have been perched just over the Bracken plant in front , but it was so thick and tall , you couldn't see anyway . The second bonus for the deviation was a distant view of a Woodlark in a dead tree . I took this as a record shot , hoping to get closer , but the Woodlark had other ideas , and flew off almost immediately . When I got to the kissing gate to leave the reserve , I came across a reptile with the right idea . A Common Lizard was sat in the shade on the step , and I had to step over it , without it moving to get to the car park .
Other noteworthy birds seen/heard on site were , Willow Warbler , Redstart - fleeting glimpses of a speckled juvenile and an adult male , Tree Pipit , Nuthatch , Green Woodpecker , Common Whitethroat , Chiffchaff and on my return to the car park , Blackcap .
Other Odonata recorded were , Common Darter , Black Tailed Skimmer and Blue Tailed Damselfly . Other Butterflies recorded were , Meadow Brown and Small and Large Skipper .
And finally , an underwing of a moth that seemed determined to stay on a Pine . Even when it flew , it settled on the next Pine . Any ideas ?

Friday, 26 June 2009

Friday 26th.June 2009

There was a better chance of dinosaur watching than bird watching today , with practice for the Biggin Hill Air Show taking place locally . That , combined with 'extreme weather' forecast by the Met.Office , I decided to take Carol shopping this morning . The shopping was 'shopping' , but the weather was so 'non extreme' , that I didn't want to be shopping , even with Carol .
By lunchtime , the warm , humid weather continued , without a sign of anything to the different , so I set off for Spring Park Pond , thinking that if things change , I'm not too far from the car . With the exception of Damselflies , the pond was surprisingly quiet . There were plenty of Azure and a few Large Red Damselflies , but nothing larger , until a mature Four Spotted Chaser settled on the seed head of Ribwort Plantain , and posed for a shot . In fact , apart from a male Emperor Dragonfly that I found hawking over the meadow , that was the only Dragonfly that I recorded on my visit . With very little happening around the pond , I started searching the surrounding vegetation . It was there that I found a Red Admiral and a Comma , resting within 15 cms. of each other , in a patch of Brambles . Just around the corner , on a patch of Stinging Nettles , I found another very fresh looking Red Admiral . The egg that this butterfly hatched out of , was probably layed by a female that arrived from the Continent , already having mated , earlier in the year . In the same patch , I found 35 Peacock caterpillars . They had spread out from where they had hatched out , but , back there , there were many caterpillars , that had hatched out from the egg , but then for some reason , hadn't made it any further . This sight made me recall the statistics of egg to adulthood in butterflies . If a female lays 50 eggs , 20-40 will make it to the caterpillar stage , of which 10 might survive to form chrysali , of which 2-3 might achieve adulthood , a survival ratio of 2-6% .
In the smaller , sheltered meadow , Skippers , Ringlets and Meadow Browns were recorded , along with a fresh , very richly coloured Comma , which was finding something of interest on a tissue . A walk back towards the pond , produced a Green Veined White , having it's fix of 'honey' from the Creeping Thistle , which have opened up greatly in the last couple of days .
A few posts ago , I posted a very tatty male Common Blue , and today , on the way back to the car , I found his wife . The full butterfly count was , Red Admiral (2) , Ringlet (12) , Meadow Brown (24) , Comma (6) , Large White (8) , Large Skipper (12) , Small Skipper (5) and singleton Small White , Speckled Wood and Green Veined White . Damselflies/Dragonflies recorded were , Large Red Damselfly (7) , Azure Damselfly (50+) , Four Spotted Chaser (1) and Emperor Dragonfly (1) + another 6 exuvia of this species found and removed . Not sure where I'm going tomorrow , but it will not be around Biggin Hill .

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Thursday 25th.June 2009

After two days confined to the yard on the Greensand Ridge , I couldn't wait to get out this morning . With the Biggin Hill Air Fair on at the weekend , I decided to visit the sites that I will not be able to get to , without difficulty , whilst the Air Fair is on .
On my way , I stopped off at the Common , to see what was happening . Although early , I checked the Ash tree for any signs of Purple Hairstreak , both on arrival and just before leaving , but did not see anything . In the same glade , Meadow Browns , Ringlets and the odd Large Skipper were on the wing . Not far from the Ash tree , Common Toadflax was found in full flower , and in the aptly named Orchid Glade , a handful of Common Spotted , probably 100+ Pyramidal and a second Bee Orchid - pictured , were found . In the same glade , Yellow Rattle and Lucerne , also known as Alfalfa , a member of the Pea family , was found in many shades from lilac to my favourite , deep purple . Both probably brought in as seed on the tractor / grass cutter in the Autumn . On the heathland , very little was found , but the Brimstone caterpillars are just getting larger and larger , but no adults seen on the wing . Other species found on site were , Large and Small Skipper and Small Heath . Other interest found , were a pair of Bullfinches calling , but not showing themselves , the Chiffchaff , still singing his heart out on the heathland , and a sign of modern day life , a cannibis grinder .
From the Common , I headed for High Elms , the road to which becomes part of the one way system to get traffic from the M25 to the Air Show on both days , so well worth avoiding over the weekend . As I have posted before , as I arrived , the sun became milky , then disappeared . My chances of White Admiral went with it , but , at the end of the glade where I sometimes find them , I did have sight of what I am very sure , but not positive , was my first Silver Washed Fritillary , but I will not record it as such , because of not being 100% sure , and it was at a distance . All was quiet in the small glade where I watched the female SWFs laying their eggs last year , so I headed up to Burnt Gorse . Not the hive of activity there either , but I did find a second male Marbled White , and along the top edge , a male Brimstone - pictured , recently emerged by the look of him . The usual Skippers , the odd Common Blue and several fresh looking Commas , along with the Meadow Browns and Ringlets completed the recording .
The third site visited , after lunch , was Salt Box Hill , directly below Biggin Hill Airport , so an obvious 'no go' for the weekend . On one particular part of the site Wild Parsnip is coming into flower . I didn't re-find the Dark Green Fritillary , but the Marbled Whites (79) had emerged since my last visit at the weekend , and these will increase to about 200 hopefully , when the females emerge . Like many butterfly species , the females are larger , and the underwing markings , black on this male , are brown . The Meadow Browns (41) are getting down to what they were put here for , once again , the larger female on the right . Ringlets (52) , Large Skipper (8) , Brimstone (5) , Small White (1) , Comma (2) , Large White (1) , Common Blue (2) , Speckled Wood (2) and Small Skipper (1) , made up the 11 species recorded . The most frustrating time on site , was when I found a Hummingbird Hawk Moth , a migrant from the Continent , feeding on Bedstraw . It just would not stay still , and by the time the camera focused , it had moved on to the next flower , eventually disappearing into the big blue yonder .
I had to pass the farm lake on the way home , and the car just turns in naturally . A bit of a breeze was blowing across the lake , but warm under the now unbroken blue sky . I could only find one of the first Little Grebe youngsters , and three of the second family youngsters . The other side of the coin is that the Mallard family , Mum and four , are still intact , the Moorhens now have three young , and the four , first brood , Coots , now have another 5 newly hatched young , and the first brood seem to have been exiled to the far side of the lake , to get on with things for themselves . This is probably where the saying 'bald as a Coot' comes from . Around the lake , things are turning yellow , as masses of Ladies Bedstraw comes into flower . Even with a conservative estimate of 50+ Black Tailed Skimmers around the lake , they are still emerging in good numbers , this one having flown up onto surrounding trees to finish drying it's wings . If it is a female , then when she comes back to the water to breed , she will be set upon by 6/10 males , as was happening whilst I was there . The Azure Damselflies , like all of them are mating ready to start the new generation , and the Common Darters are showing signs of maturing , so their breeding time will come soon . Other species recorded were , Large Red , Blue Tailed and Common Blue Damselflies and Emperor Dragonfly . Butterflies were few , but six species in small numbers were recorded .